Memorandum from Professor Steve Smith,
Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter
There are four principal reasons which led the
University's Senate and Council to vote in favour of closing Chemistry.
1. Funding for 4-rated departments has been
reduced. Since the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), research
funding for Chemistry has fallen by 42% to £16K per member
of staff. This compares with 5-rated Physics, which receives £46K
per member of staff.
2. Financial deficit. Although Chemistry
recruits students to quota it still loses £188K a year on
teaching. On research, Chemistry loses £605K a year.
3. Decline in research earnings. The value
of research grants awarded to Chemistry since 2001 has fallen
4. Enabling the University to continue to
compete at the highest level. In the 2001 RAE Exeter entered 37
subjects (the average for 1994 Group universities is 22). The
closure of Chemistry and other changes in the academic portfolio
will bring the number of subjects down to 29, enabling the University
to concentrate on its strongest academic areas. This is vital
given the increasing concentration of research funds in 5 and
5* rated departments mentioned in 1 above. No other closures are
Although Chemistry is being closed the number
of science students at Exeter remains the same with places being
transferred to a new School of Biosciences. The strongest areas
of Chemistry research, which are at the interface with Biology
and Physics, will be retained.
The University fully appreciates that this is
an unsettling period for the students. It is also obvious from
talking to the students that there is unlikely to be a "one
size fits all" solution. Three options for further study
have therefore been worked out in consultation with them.
1. Remain at Exeter to finish the Chemistry
course. The University will make the necessary arrangements to
provide teaching, by "buying back" staff who accept
voluntary severance and/or by employing other staff on teaching
only contracts. The University will know by the end of February
how many students wish to stay and it will then be possible to
say how many teaching staff are required. Offers to stay on and
teach the students have already been made to a number of Chemistry
staff. Given that many university Chemistry departments in the
UK do not recruit to quota there should be no particular difficulty
in recruiting extra teaching capacity if necessary. Labs and equipment
are NOT being closed down and will continue to be available.
2. Transfer to another University. This
was developed as an option in response to a request by the students
themselves. Senior management have been working closely with Bath
and Bristol universities, who were selected because of their high
academic standards and proximity to Exeter. Provided they pass
their end of year exams at Exeter, students can transfer straight
into the next year at Bath or Bristol. Other universities have
also offered places. If a student transfers to another university
they will receive a single payment of £2K to cover expenses.
If by transferring to a university other than Bath/Bristol they
have to repeat a year they will receive £3.5K.
Transfer to another degree at Exeter. The same
£2K/£3.5K deal applies.
The University has investigated the deals offered
by other universities who have closed departments and, to our
knowledge, the £2K/£3.5K deal is the most generous ever
The timing of the announcement was driven by
two factors outside of the University's control. Firstly, Chemistry
was expected to make a loss this year, but it was not until after
the start of the autumn term that the chemists forecast an even
greater divergence from financial targets. This was no longer
sustainable. Secondly, the government's stance on national shortage
subjects (ie no extra funds to support 4-rated science) did not
become clear until November. A strong policy steer was obviously
necessary before a decision about Chemistry's future could be
A communication plan was developed to tell Heads
of Schools first, staff in the affected departments second, students
third, and then the media. It would be done in quick succession.
The Heads of the Schools most affected by the
changes met individually with the Vice-Chancellor between 5 and
9 November 2004. The news was broken to all Heads of School and
the Guild of Students at a meeting of the Senior Management Group
(SMG) on Thursday 18 November. SMG were asked to keep the information
confidential until other groups had been told. The communication
plan was thrown into complete disarray when the Royal Society
of Chemistry's Press Officer called the University on the afternoon
of Friday 19 November to say they were issuing a press release
immediately to the regional and national media. The RSC were informed
that there would be no announcement about Chemistry until the
following week, but went ahead anyway. A copy of their press release
is attached. Stories were carried over the weekend by West Country
Television, the Western Morning News and BBC Radio Devon. Staff
and students therefore found out about the closure from the media
first and were quite rightly angry.
The "leak" resulted in much more media
attention on Monday 22 November, which had to be dealt with and
which consumed some of the time set aside for staff and students.
Staff were informed as planned that afternoon. The Vice-Chancellor
met with the Guild of Students on Tuesday 23 November and with
Chemistry students on Wednesday 24 November. This was followed
up by a letter to all Chemistry students on Thursday 25 November.
Strenuous efforts have been made to keep students
up to date with developments.
1. A Student Liaison Group consisting of
University staff, members of the Guild of Students and Chemistry
students was established to aid dialogue. It met on 6 December,
8 December, 11 January and 1 February.
2. Students were updated on developments
sent by letters on 25 November, 10 December, 11 January, 17 January
and 3 February. A joint letter was also sent by the Heads of the
Chemistry departments at Bath and Bristol on 24 January.
3. Coaches were organised so that students
could visit the Chemistry departments of Bath and Bristol Universities
on Friday 11 February.
4. Students (only about six) who were still
undecided about which option to take were offered one-to-one meetings
with a Deputy Vice-Chancellor on Monday 14 February.
5. Staff have been constantly available
to answer questions from parents and students.